Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wallets at the Ready: NYI Free Agency Preview

Got a pen?


We're now 25 hours (and counting) away from the start of free agent frenzy and, if their aggressive approach with Christian Ehrhoff (even though they were unsuccessful) is any indication, the New York Islanders fully-intend to enter the market as buyers, ready to pounce on the opportunity to make a splash.

Exciting as that may be, it's not necessarily because Charles Wang wants to flex his wallet muscles for the entire hockey world to see that the Isles are going to actively pursue these players. They're going to do so because they have to, because the NHL's raising the salary cap, which means the team has to spend money to stay above the cap floor. 

Of course, the Isles also know that if they can reel in higher-caliber talent, it could help sway the casual hockey fan towards voting "yes" for the tax bond on August 1. 

Honestly, does it really matter why they're doing it? At the end of the day, adding a couple of quality hockey players can only make the Islanders a better team moving forward, and whether or not that's the sole reason for making those moves doesn't take away from that fact, something that Isles' GM Garth Snow is well aware of. 


There's no purpose in dwelling over Christian Ehrhoff. I really don't think his decision had as much to do with Long Island and the Coliseum as many speculated. Garth Snow might even have been the one to break off the talks.

While I can only imagine how that conversation went, I'm guessing it sounded something like this:

Snow to Ehrhoff: So, what did you have in mind?

Ehrhoff to Snow: Well, I was thinking maybe ten yea-(CLICK). Snow hangs up.

If winning was the most important thing on his mind, he would have re-signed with the Canucks, who came within 60 minutes of a Stanley Cup title. 

Fans shouldn't take this one personally. This isn't remotely the same (or as bad) as what Evgeni Nabokov did to this franchise a few months ago. 

Ehrhoff's a good defenseman, but he's not exactly Doug Harvey reincarnated. There are other quality D-men on the market, such as Tomas Kaberle, Scott Hannan and Ed Jovanovski. Perhaps the Isles will bring Roman Hamrlik, also a UFA at noon tomorrow, back to Long Island.

Isles' Roman Hamrlik (far right) battles Toronto's Darcy Tucker for a loose puck during the 2002 Playoffs 
The problem is, most of those players are either at the end of their prime or past that point altogether. If Garth Snow truly wants to land a top-flight blueliner who's in his prime, he's going to have to make a trade, which is probably the better route anyway, at least considering the defensemen on the market and how grossly they're likely to be overpaid. 

Young players like John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Nino Niederreiter, among others, should benefit from Doug Weight's presence behind the bench as an assistant coach. But adding a veteran forward (or two) who can provide leadership by example might not be the worst idea either, and the Islanders have a handful to choose from. 


Erik Cole, Andrew Brunette, Simon Gagne and John Madden fit that category. There are also a few low(er) risk/high reward UFA's, such as Tomas Fleischmann and Michael Ryder, who may not be able to command top dollar contracts, but have the potential to make a significant impact on the teams they end up signing with.

Snow could also engineer a trade for a marquee forward, if that's the way he wants to go. 

If I had to choose offense or defense, I'd rather the Isles invest in their blueline. To me, that's the bigger gap that needs to be filled. The offense looks fantastic, the defense needs some work, even with Mark Streit coming back this season. 

Islander fans, we're in for an exciting summer. Mark your calendars, the fun begins tomorrow at 12 noon. 


Comments are welcome.


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